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Memories of Doreen Denny, nee Wells

Bert Wells - The Celery King

A composite impression of Bert Wells' shop, put together by his daughter Doreen
Impression of Bert Wells' shop, compiled by his daughter Doreen

Bert bought his shop at 48 Duck Street in 1930 from Minnie & Violet Chettle (who sold sweets there) and he sold sweets, general groceries, fruit & vegetables and became known as “The Celery King” for the fine stalks he sold. Later he also sold small bundles of firewood that were prepared by a lame boy called Fred Hales at 2d a bundle. (Fred later owned his own shop in Wellingborough Road). The fruit came in large wooden boxes and the grapes came in barrels which were stored in the back yard and anyone who wanted a piece of wood for a repair or to make something would be able to buy these. Bert’s youngest daughter, Doreen, recalls playing with the boxes as tables and chairs and her mother would bring her and her friends a jug of lemonade to drink.

The shop was open from 7am to 10pm 7 days a week and Bert also went out hawking with a horse and cart, later with a van. The horse & cart were kept in Chettle’s yard at the bottom of Fitzwilliam Street (the entrance was just above what is now “Bantin the Tailor”).

Bert always looked smart in a white smock with long black gaiters very highly polished. He would clean the shop on Mondays, go hawking on Tuesday & Thursday in Rushden and Wednesday & Saturday in Wellingborough. His hobby was rabbits; Dutch, lop ears & English, which he kept in a shed in the back yard, and he would handle them all to get them used to it so that they would keep still for the judges at the shows he went to, and he would slip a silk stocking over his hand and stroke their fur until it shone. He showed them at Northampton and Leicester many times and was very successful winning over 1000 prizes and he became a well-respected judge as his obituary in the Fur & Feather magazine proved.

 Doreen Wells and her cousin outside the shop at 48 Duck Street
Doreen Wells (r) with her cousin, outside the shop
The shop was next to Hollis’ bake-house and on Sundays lots of men would stream down the roads with tins containing the meat & Yorkshire pudding, overlaid with a cloth. They would deposit the tin at the bake-house for cooking and go off to one of the pubs for an hour or so and then call and pick up the dinner to take home to their waiting family.

At dinner-time (noon to 1pm) the men would stream out of the factories, Cave’s, Eaton’s & Horrell’s, and the children from Alfred Street School and the shop would be very busy. Bert would lift down jars of sweets from the shelves for his wife to weigh and bag whilst he sold the cigarettes and groceries and took the money. Doreen would see how busy it was so she would serve the penny sweets from the bottom shelf to her fellow pupils, and then run off back to school before the bell sounded. The favourites of the day were kali with a stick of liquorice in a bag for 1d or 5 toffees for 2d.

Opposite the shop were 4 stone cottages where Mr & Mrs King lived, then Felce’s  & ………… and Mr & Mrs Hunt. Mr & Mrs King mostly wore black clothing. At the bottom of Fitzwilliam Hill was a stone built shop where Vi & Minnie sold high-class sweets. They sold it to their father where he sold fruit, veg, groceries and cigarettes and in the yard behind he kept his horse and cart and rented out the other stables and sheds. Above the stables was a workshop where Mr Cox used to repair the shoe racks for local shoe companies and did small engineering jobs. Later he moved to Wellingborough Road where he teamed up with Mr Wright to form Cox & Wright.

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